It is, perhaps, the perfect musical for a nation under a “rule of six” law. The hit show Six, in which Henry VIII’s wives return from the dead to give a boisterous “histo-remix” pop concert, is set to become the first musical to reopen in the West End since lockdown and will have a simultaneous run in Salford.
Created by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss when they were undergraduates at Cambridge University, Six ran at the Arts theatre in London from September 2018 to March this year, when venues closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. It will now move temporarily to the larger Lyric theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue for a socially distanced 11-week run, beginning on 14 November, with nine shows a week. Another staging of the musical will open at the Lowry in Salford on 27 November and run for six weeks.
In a statement, the show’s producers – Kenny Wax, Wendy and Andy Barnes and George Stiles – said that the tour and West End run would “give work to 100 or so actors, musicians, technicians, stage managers, production managers, costume makers, marketing, press, ticketing and office staff”. They acknowledged that it was unlikely to be economically viable, but they hoped to rebuild audience confidence – with safety measures including contactless tickets and temperature testing – and to entertain theatregoers who have had scarce opportunity to enjoy live musicals, in particular, since March. In July, a tour of Six that had sold out several drive-in venues around England as part of Live Nation Entertainment’s summer season was cancelled due to concerns about local lockdowns.
Economic constraints and Covid safety measures have meant that many of England’s theatres have reopened with monologues or two-handers. However, Regents Park Open Air theatre is presenting a concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar – with the actors socially distanced – and a new musical adaptation of the romcom Sleepless in Seattle recently opened at the Troubadour Wembley Park theatre. But Six’s producers warned that remounting musicals “remains impossible for most producers for reasons of scale, finance and lack of cancellation insurance”. They added: “We continue to look forward to the day when social distancing is removed and theatre can play to 100% capacity.”
A hit at the Edinburgh fringe in 2018, Six has become one of London’s most popular new musicals, regularly packing out the intimate Arts theatre, where tribute drawings by its hardcore fans – know as the Queendom – hang in the foyer and there are themed cocktails at the bar. There have been Six karaoke nights, where audiences arrive in the costume of their favourite queen and the performers, who are backed by a live band, film themselves on stage using fans’ mobile phones during the closing number.
The vibe among socially distanced audiences in a reduced-capacity Lyric will undoubtedly be different, but the announcement heralds the gradual reopening of an unrecognisably quiet West End, where footfall this summer was down by 63% on the previous year. Next month, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – the longest-running play in London and, indeed, the world – will reopen at the St Martin’s theatre. The Nimax group of West End theatres has announced plans to restart shows including the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and comedy The Play That Goes Wrong. Next month, Nimax’s Apollo theatre will reopen with a short run for ex-NHS doctor Adam Kay’s solo show This is Going to Hurt. The first night, on 22 October, is a free performance for NHS staff only.